Two of the three August primaries for Spokane Valley City Council races were blowouts.
Mayor Ben Wick breezed through the primary, earning 60% of the vote and topping lead challenger Brandon Fenton by 30 points. Incumbent Pam Haley has reason to feel good heading into the general election too, after taking 47% of the vote compared to runner-up Wayne Fenton’s 26%.
In the third race, incumbent Linda Thompson, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Washington House of Representatives in 2008 against Republican Larry Crouse, won 36% of the vote.
Laura Padden, wife of Republican 4th Legislative District Sen. Mike Padden, took 42%.
Those numbers on their own suggest the general election race between Thompson and Padden could be close. Primary election results are, at best, imprecise predictors of who will win in the general. A six-point gap isn’t insurmountable for Thompson, even though Padden’s name recognition and campaign funding make her a tougher opponent than most first-time City Council candidates.
But 37% and 42% adds up to 79%, not 100%. While they didn’t advance to the general election, two other candidates won a significant chunk of votes during the primary. How their voters shift support could make the Thompson-Padden race a nailbiter.
Adam “Smash” Smith, owner of Spokane Valley Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, took 15% of the primary vote. He endorsed Thompson, and his voters may support her during the general.
Renault Evans mustered a bit less than 7% of the vote during the primary. He didn’t respond to The Spokesman-Review’s requests for comment, but it’s possible his voters might prefer Padden based on his stated beliefs.
Depending on how other Spokane Valley City Council races go, there could be a lot at stake in the Thompson-Padden race.
Thompson often votes with the majority when the City Council has 4-3 decisions, alongside council members Wick, Tim Hattenburg and Brandi Peetz. Padden, who counts council members Rod Higgins and Arne Woodard among her campaign donors, might be more likely to vote alongside Higgins, Woodard and Pam Haley, meaning her victory could tip the balance of power from the center to the right.
The race between Higgins and James “JJ” Johnson may have the same potential to change council votes. Because Higgins and Johnson are the only candidates in their race, both advanced to the general without a primary election, which means there aren’t many clues as to which way voters are leaning. It’s possible that in order to maintain a centrist City Council, at least Thompson or Johnson has to win.
Both Thompson and Padden list public safety among their top priorities. Thompson said she’s focused on road preservation, infrastructure, parks and trails.
Padden said, in addition to improving public safety, she would try to address the housing shortage if elected.
How to take care of roads
In recent years, Spokane Valley has been using money collected through a telephone tax to pay for road maintenance.
That tax has brought in less money over time. Facing declining revenues, City Council has been forced to consider alternative ways to pay for road work. Much of the debate has centered around whether the city should create a new tax or revenue source, or simply fit road maintenance costs into the general budget.
Thompson and Padden said the city should avoid new taxes, and both said it’s fine to use general funds for road maintenance.
“Right now we should live within our budget as best we can but utilize our existing funds to cover our roads,” Thompson said. “We are going to have to look at a sustainable funding source for roads, and that may be a line item in our budget.”
The Streets Sustainability Committee the city established this year could provide some useful ideas on how to fund road maintenance, Thompson said, adding she’s eager to see what proposals the committee might have.
Padden said paying for road maintenance should always be a leading priority for city governments. She said she’s fine with either figuring out a new funding mechanism that would help the city pay for roads or carving out a space in the general budget.
“The bottom line is, the city appears to have plenty of money to deal with all the roads,” she said.
Should the Valley have a homeless shelter?
Spokane Valley leaders say homelessness has been a growing problem.
Although the number of people experiencing homelessness in Spokane Valley appears to have grown, the city lacks a homeless shelter. The city financially supports shelters in Spokane, sending about $750,000 annually to help service providers there.
Neither Thompson nor Padden opposes the creation of a homeless shelter in Spokane Valley, though both say they’re opposed to a no-barrier shelter.
“I’m very open to having a shelter that would have good criteria on who can be there,” Thompson said.
Both candidates said Spokane Valley has done a good job addressing homelessness.
“I think we have a really good system in place,” Thompson said, pointing to the hiring of a housing and homeless coordinator this year as a major step in the right direction.
“The Valley doesn’t really get credit for what they have done,” Padden said.
Are parks a priority?
In the last two years, the City Council has made a handful of significant land purchases that will allow the city to expand trails and add new park land.
Two acquisitions stand out: the purchase of a $2.1-million, 45-acre property north of the Spokane River south of Flora Road and of a $1.6-million, 18-acre property in the Ponderosa Neighborhood.
Padden said buying park land should have been lower on the council’s priority list during the pandemic.
“You’ve got to spend on the essentials first, like public safety, the roads, economic development, that kind of thing,” Padden said. “Then you look to the parks and the more fun stuff.”
The city should have spent more money maintaining parks it already has, Padden said.
Thompson said she supports the Flora Road and Ponderosa Neighborhood land acquisitions.
“It’s extremely important we preserve and maintain, expand, our park system to ensure that we have plenty of open space for our citizens to enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got open spaces to get fresh air; I just think it’s a critical part of having a successful city.”
To contract or not to contract?
Spokane Valley doesn’t have a police department.
Instead, the city pays the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to fulfill its law enforcement needs. At times in Spokane Valley’s history, city leaders have proposed splitting from the Sheriff’s Office and creating a separate department. Neither Padden nor Thompson thinks breaking away from the Sheriff’s Office is a good idea.
“I am very supportive of staying as a contract city for our police department,” Thompson said. “I think that we have the best of both worlds.”
Padden said it would not be financially wise to create a new department.
“The county’s been good to us,” she said. “We have good officers. They’re well trained. They know the Valley.”
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